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Dec 4, 2019 - 10:32:52 AM
2706 posts since 2/18/2009

I have had a request to make a banjo with a black-stained ash wood rim. I have not done much with stains because I am colorblind, so I can't tell what I'm doing, but I should be able to manage black since color won't be a factor. The customer wants the rim to be pretty black but have the grain showing, so he wants stain instead of paint. I'll be top coating with Tru Oil, unless that's not a good idea for some reason. I can get black stain from the hardware store, but I think I have also heard of india ink and (I think) printer toner and lampblack being used, and I am wondering if someone with more experience could advise me about what would be best to use for this purpose. Thank you very much for any advice you may have.

Dec 4, 2019 - 10:52:50 AM
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764 posts since 12/30/2008

Zach... I have a fretless with an ash pot, built for me by Noel Booth of Old Fiddle Road. It has a stained ash black pot, which if I am not mistaken he did using a steel wool and vinegar stain. I believe the process is called ebonizing. Others more knowledgeable I am sure will correct me.

Lots of info online. Or I’m sure if you contacted Noel he’d tell you his process.

You can see that the stain has worn through where the pot rests on my leg... wear which I personally think looks pretty cool.


Edited by - championofnorthhuron on 12/04/2019 10:53:35

Dec 4, 2019 - 11:34:47 AM
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3669 posts since 5/12/2010

Black leather dye would likely work well for this. I spilled some on my oak work bench many years ago and it is still black as coal with no sign of wear through after a lot of things have been worked on at that bench.

Dec 4, 2019 - 12:03:55 PM
Players Union Member



14819 posts since 3/27/2004

I can't relate from person al experience, but I've followed various ebonizing processes for several years in case I feel a need to experiment with it.

A few notes about the process:

The steel wool / vinegar process relies heavily on the tanins present in the wood for ebonizing, so it's always a bit of a roll of the dice how well any particular piece of wood is going to react.  It's often a "surface" treatment with coloration extending minimally below the surface.

Commercial stains, as well as leather dye, toner, ink jet printer ink, true India ink, and commercial ebony stains will all be dependent upon overcoating to protect both the wood from having stain removed as well as the player's clothing and skin.

One of our members here related that when they were producing rims several years ago that they used Lady Clairol hair coloring, as it produced the most acceptable results after working with various ebonizing processes.  The biggest drawback was smelling like a beauty parlor until it thoroughly dried.

I've been playing with Rubio Monocoat (which is a special "hard oil" developed in Europe as a flooring protectant) and it is sold in many colors.  I have a test bottle of black, and it may work very well for ebonizing rims.  It's an interesting protectant, as it molecularly bonds to the wood cells at the surface layer of the wood.  It doesn't "soak in" like a conventional topically applied oil and it doesn't serve as a top coat.  You actually apply, let it soak in for 15 minutes, and then wipe off any remaining oil on the surface.

There's a really good discussion on using Rubio Monocoat over on the Talkbass forum.

Ken Levan has been using a similar product, Osmo, and it may also come in colors.

Dec 4, 2019 - 1:15:17 PM

1942 posts since 2/7/2008

I've used Feibing's Oil Dye to blacken light streaks in ebony and it is dead black and worked splendidly. I'm just not sure how it will take finish.

Everything else I've used that was marketed as black stain has always had a purplish cast.

I use a pigment called "Mars Black" to color epoxy and it's black as night, but I've never used it to make stain. I'll run a test if you tell me what solvent to try...

Edited by - Quickstep192 on 12/04/2019 13:19:19

Dec 4, 2019 - 1:57:53 PM



2422 posts since 2/20/2016

I have used Feibings' Leather Dye [the alcohol soluble type], and alcohol soluble powdered aniline dye [available from International Violin]. If you use the aniline dye, use PGA rather than denatured alcohol. Denatured causes color problems.

For your application, I would make up a test board and try 2 or 3 different things.

Dec 4, 2019 - 3:28:40 PM

36 posts since 9/17/2017

Have used black Transfast water based dye, under an oil finish with good results.

Dec 4, 2019 - 3:41:53 PM

2706 posts since 2/18/2009

Thank you all very much for your help. I've ordered a bottle oF Fiebing's Leather Dye and will post back here once it comes and I can try it. I'll do a test scrap with it and then try putting Tru Oil over it once it dries, and see what happens. I had heard about it before, I think, but I had forgotten. It sounds like a good solution for the problem, as long as it's compatible with the oil finish.

Dec 4, 2019 - 4:13:13 PM
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Players Union Member



12127 posts since 8/30/2006

I suggest using gloves

Dec 5, 2019 - 3:29:24 AM
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136 posts since 2/16/2010

I'm in the UK but I guess products similiar to the one mentioned below will be available in the US.
I needed a small quantity of matte black finish but could only find large cans of blackboard paint. I settled for a sample size pot of water based exterior wall paint in matte black. It the original job very well and encouraged by the effort needed to clean up splashes etc I tried it as a stain. I painted it on with a brush and rubbed in with a coarse cloth and finished when dry with Tru Oil. The results are excellent and as exterior paint it should be UV stable. On previous banjo projects I'd used Fiebings dye.

Dec 5, 2019 - 3:51:35 AM

4415 posts since 11/20/2004

I used Behlen black dye stain under a TruOil finish on mahogany with no issues. I would expect you will be fine. TruOil is my favorite non stick neck finish.

Dec 23, 2019 - 11:10:25 AM

2706 posts since 2/18/2009

Thank you all very much for your help. I got the Fiebings leather dye in the mail and did a test piece, but it was so small it was hard to get a good picture. I put three coats of dye on the rim, one after another without stopping since it soaked in and became dry to the touch in under a minute, and 2 or 3 days later I put on 5 coats of Tru Oil. I noticed that the dyed wood took longer for the Tru Oil to dry on than the other parts I was finishing at the same time, but now that it's been sitting overnight I can't see or feel any difference. I think that if I ever have to stain a rim black again this will be the stuff to use, especially since I didn't finish the bottle on this rim.


Dec 23, 2019 - 11:37:34 AM

12486 posts since 6/29/2005

Originally posted by lightgauge

I used Behlen black dye stain under a TruOil finish on mahogany with no issues. I would expect you will be fine. TruOil is my favorite non stick neck finish.

The Behlen jet black dye stain is what I use, too.  It used to be called "Solar Lux", but the name has changed.

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